The 2019 Western Montana Fair showed Resilience

The 2019 Western Montana Fair showed the resilience in Free Admission and embraced sustainability

Photo by Harry Miller. With an otherwise soggy Missoula Stampede, Friday night was a fan favorite and one of the most memorable Missoula rodeos of all time.

If there is one word to describe the 2019 Western Montana Fair, it is resilient. With a heatwave followed by hailstorms, things looked grim at times. But when the sun came out, so did the crowds. With the Fair shortened by a day and with one less rodeo event, numbers only dropped 2-4% in most categories with ticketed arena events suffering the most. This resilience is owed to the Fair’s continued Free Admission program, which gives folks a chance to come at their leisure and come back again later if things get hot or wet.

Photo by Bess Bird. The Saturday morning livestock sale is always a hit.

Attendance for the 2019 Fair reached just over 77,000 visitors — 4% lower than 2018 yet 9% higher than the eight-year average. Concessions and carnival dropped 4% and 3% respectively yet were still 9-14% above average. Free Admission began in 2017 and now has a three-year track record demonstrating the Fair operating at a much stronger level than years prior, even with each of the last three years offering unfavorable weather. Free-Admission is here to stay, and the sky is the limit on bluebird days.

Photo by Bess Bird. Rides glow at dusk as long lines gather.

Owing to curiosity and community support of Fairgrounds Redevelopment and the remodels of treasured historic barns, sponsorships and social media presence had the strongest gains. Sponsorships spiked to an eight-year high of $84,602 — 11% higher than 2018 and 44% higher than average. Social media followers on Facebook and Instagram swelled to 8100. Exhibit entries also spiked, with a 29% gain over 2018. Nearly identical to 2018, over 50,000 unique visitors came to in the month leading to the Fair.

Photo by Bess Bird. The Made Fair Marketplace helped to debut the remodelled Commercial Building, filling both floors with local/handcrafted arts and goods. New elevator rear/center.

With all the amazing deep-fried treats at the Fair, do you ever wonder where all the fryer grease ends up? Over 350 gallons of vegetable oils were captured and are being converted into biofuel. Adding to that, 4000 pounds of metals and 2500 pounds of cardboard were recycled following the Fair. Large volumes of wood shavings, manure, lawn waste, and more have also been repurposed. The Fair’s back-of-house reuse/recycling process is in the spirit of a Montana rancher — waste nothing and leave no trace.

Photo by Bess Bird. Teenagers share in heaping portions of french fries.

While the Fair has reused and repurposed waste materials for several years in the ‘back-of-house,’ Zero Waste Stations were introduced in 2019 for public use as part of Missoula’s Zero by Fifty Movement. Consumer trash diversion figures are still being calculated. While not superlative, those numbers and very low contamination show great promise for future landfill diversion.

For media inquiries, please contact Fairgrounds Production Manager Tom Aldrich - 406-721-3247 /

Photography by Bess Bird